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CSR Reporting 2.0: From Stats To Stories

It seems there’s a gap for many organizations in reaping the benefits from their CSR programs.

A new Director Notes report called What Board Members Should Know About Communicating CSR shows that awareness of a company’s CSR activities among its external, and even internal stakeholders, is typically low.  Not surprising, given that the typical approach to CSR communications comes down to a once-a-year, static PDF report that may never get read, or ends up getting buried in the back of an annual report.

According to KPMG International (which produces an international survey of CSR reporting trends worldwide) “Reporting is more than just a book, website, or data set. It is a continuous process that must involve and reflect the needs of its stakeholders.”

Today, it’s not enough to communicate what organizations are doing or have done when it comes to CSR. It’s more important to engage your stakeholders in sharing your CSR story.

Turning CSR Reporting On Its Head

An effective way to spread your message is to infuse more social elements into CSR communications and reporting.  From customers to partners to employees, ‘social’ allows stakeholders to participate in the conversation, provide their own feedback and share what you’re doing with other people.

Organizations are slowly catching on to this. In a recent 2011 report, SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, showed that at least 250 major corporate organizations now focus on communicating CSR through some form of social media. In fact, more than 100 have either a blog, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter channel that’s dedicated specifically to sustainability initiatives. (That’s up from 60 reported in their initial 2010 report.) The report also highlights the growth of social online reports. In 2010, just 15 companies allowed their Sustainability/CSR report to be shared through social media. In 2011, that number rose to 36. Still early days, but progress nonetheless!

Take a look at Seventh Generation’s Report. The company took a different approach and started communicating through an innovative web-based e-book that incorporates videos, blogs and links to the company’s website. IBM’s Smarter Planet and Allianz Knowledge are also outstanding examples of using more social, transparent means to share CSR expertise and create conversations with stakeholders.

In 2010 Softchoice also turned its traditional PDF reporting format on its head by switching to a dynamic, CSR blog report.  The company felt that a static, point in time snapshot wasn’t doing their story justice.  Communicating with a new level of transparency and in ‘real-time’, Softchoice uses its CSR blog and other interactive channels to share updates and insights on green programs, well-being initiatives, cultural practices, and employee-led corporate giving. Each year, Softchoice also includes links from key blog posts to a PDF that meets the standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). 

4 Tips To Get More Social With CSR

If you’re looking to go more social with your own CSR report or programs, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Put people and stories at the forefront. Many employees are leading the initiatives organizations undertake. Ask them to share their stories and insights on the blog. Who doesn’t like seeing their name against something they’ve worked on? Plus, they’ll be more inclined to share their success stories both within and outside the organization.
  2. Share your insights. CSR reporting isn’t just about making your company more socially, economically and environmentally friendly.  Sharing insights and tips from the germination of an idea all the way to implementation should be shared with everyone. This allows other organizations, even competitors, to better themselves and contribute constructively to their own communities. Everyone stands to benefit!
  3. Talk less, discuss more. Don’t just share, spark a discussion. With blog comment fields available, ask questions at the end of posts and ask people to share their feedback. Encourage others to share their own stories and insights. This will allow your organization to learn from others on ideas you may never have thought of.
  4. Time is of the essence. Providing regular updates is imperative to keep readers engaged on ongoing efforts within the company. Allow them to sign up for regular updates. But remember to provide fresh content, consistently. Otherwise, they’ll likely forget about you.

There are many different ways to approach your own CSR communications. Just make sure you’re not only communicating to, but engaging your stakeholders to help spread your story.

Sharon Beattie is a Communications Specialist at Softchoice with more than eight years combined communications and marketing experience in agency and corporate environments. She has a particular passion for internal employee communications, CRS and corporate culture initiatives. Sharon… [Read more about Sharon Beattie]

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